Key verse: Genesis 37:20
Big idea: In the beginning, Joseph was betrayed by his brothers.
Since yesterday's reading, we have crossed a huge swath of time. Esau, also a changed man, welcomed Jacob with open arms. Rachel died in childbirth*, giving birth to Benjamin, and Rachel's second youngest son, Joseph, became his favorite. Israel had learned many things over his long life, but the one who knew the pain of a father playing favorites made the same mistake. His other sons, not surprisingly, resented it. Joseph, although seventeen and able to work, was treated as the supervisor of his brothers, going back to his father to report on the quality of their work. By all indications, he was a spoiled brat.
But, despite his sinfulness and unworthiness, God had a plan to use him. Joseph had two dreams, both indicating that he would be preeminent over his brothers (the second dream is referenced in Revelation 12:1-6 and is important for understanding that passage). His brothers hatched a plan to kill Joseph, foiled only by Reuben, who tried to rescue him. Instead, he was sold to some Ishmaelite traders (whose very existence was the result of disfunction in God's chosen family) and he was taken to Egpyt, where he would spend the rest of his life. His brothers convinced Jacob that he had been killed by putting a goat's blood on Jacob's expensive, multicolored coat. The same Jacob who had used a goat's meat and skin to fool his own father now experienced the same thing. Still, God's master strategy to redeem the world through Abraham's family was not foiled. God had a plan to use the sinful favoritism of his father, the sinful betrayal of his brothers, and many other things besides.
Their sin was not excused because God used it for His purposes, but it should be encouraging to us that no suffering is wasted. In His wisdom and love, God brought all things together for good. Joseph was not innocent or sinless, but did not deserve the mistreatment he endured. But there was another who suffered unjustly and yet for a purpose. Joseph is what theologians call a "type" of Christ: someone that comes before and points toward the rough details of the One who was coming. Joseph was sold by his brothers for 20 pieces of silver; Jesus was betrayed by the nation he came to rule (John 1:11) and sold for 30 pieces of silver by one of His disciples (Matthew 26:15). Joseph and Jesus were both destined to reign, but hated for it. The sins against Joseph ultimately allowed him to save the lives of his family. Jesus' murder and betrayal made Him the perfect sacrifice to redeem the whole world.
Discussion idea: Has God ever used some way that another person hurt you for your good? What suffering is going on in your life now? How could God use that?
Prayer focus: Ask God for forgiveness for the times you have been like Joseph's brothers: jealous and resentful, resisting God's plan out of pride. Thank God for His faithfulness to advance His Kingdom, even when our own foolishness gets in the way.
* There is a possibility that Rachel died after Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. For a number of reasons, the chronology is difficult to work out. The main elements are the same either way.
Key verse: Matthew 21:42
Big Idea: Our story is the tragedy of how we failed to recognize our King and the love story of how He pursued us anyway.
When you watch a movie there is rarely any doubt about the climax. The music builds, the threads of the plot start to come together, and the great crisis will resolve at last. A book has fewer cues, but it is still usually evident that everything is coming together at last. Plot points foreshadowed in the beginning start to return as the stakes reach their highest point. Matthew 21 brings us to the climax of Jesus’ ministry. Commonly called Holy Week, this is the period that began with Jesus being lauded as the long-expected king and ended with Him in a tomb, His disciples scattered, and the forces of evil seemingly triumphant. Today, I want to focus on the parable in Matthew 21:33-46, which serves as a thumbnail sketch of the whole Bible.
A man built a vineyard and rented it out to farmers who would tend to it and bring him the profits at the end of the season. When the servants went to collect their grapes, they were rewarded with violence: one beaten, one killed, and another stoned. Slow down on this point – then the owner of the vineyard sent another group of servants to collect his spoils. Despite the farmers’ rebellion, the landowner gave them another chance to comply. How many ordinary men would do that? But the farmers chose to reject him again. Finally, the landowner decided he would send his own son – if they respected anyone, it would be him. Here is the climax: everything will rise or fall on this. If they accept the son, the two first sins will be forgiven. But if they harm his son, even the most forgiving master will retaliate. The farmers drug the son out of the vineyard and kill him. After the story, Jesus asked His audience what the landowner would now do. “He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest.”
Jesus had given a thumbnail sketch of human history generally, and Israel’s in particular. God gave us the world, but instead of giving Him the fruit of it, we hoarded it for ourselves. He sent prophets and teachers to call His people to repentance, but they rejected Him time and time again. Finally, He sent His own Son – but His Son was going to be killed too. For those who rejected the Son, there is no further remedy. The religious leaders did not realize at first that they were the wicked tenants (that is the power of a parable), but we all have a lot in common with them. Every human being who has ever lived has used the blessings of God to rebel against God. He is patient to forgive us, but if we reject His Son, then there are no more messengers of grace, only justice. Jesus is like a stone, He explained, which can either be the main cornerstone of the Temple beneath us, or a devastating boulder over us.
Discussion Idea: When the messengers were rejected, it was really the landowner they were rejecting. What applications does this have to ministry?
Prayer Focus: Pray that people would respond to the message of Jesus and take it to others, no matter the personal cost they bear for it.